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Civil Rights Appellate Clinic retained as co-counsel in racial discrimination case

Penn State Law's Civil Rights Appellate Clinic has been retained as co-counsel to work with Bernabei & Wachtel, PLLC, a Washington, D.C. boutique employment firm and a national civil rights group to represent Michael Ford in Ford v. Mansfield (4th Cir. No. 10-1254), in an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The case involves a Section 1981 racial discrimination claim for interference with contractual relations.

Ford was hired as the first African-American building manager for a unit-owners association in Arlington, Virginia. Shortly after Ford was hired, he became the subject of an unfounded investigation, racial taunts, and malicious rumors based upon his race. Several parties were involved in the conduct, but the ringleader of the investigation and originator of the rumors was an attorney who worked for the unit-owners association. As a result of the attorney’s actions, Ford was ultimately fired by the board of the unit-owners association.

"This case is an excellent example of how vigilant we need to be as a society to protect the rights that so many have fought so long and hard for," says third-year law student Jason Sabol ’10 who is working on the case. "One of the cases we cite in our brief was litigated and won by the famed civil rights attorney Morris Dees, who we had the honor of meeting earlier this semester. Ford is essentially the same case. Yet here we are, almost thirty years later, litigating the exact same issue."

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia dismissed Ford's claim. The Civil Rights Appellate Clinic, in cooperation with co-counsel, has been retained to write the merits brief and reply brief, and to represent Ford in oral arguments on his appeal.

"Working on the Ford case is a wonderful opportunity to do the important work that lawyers do every day. Being involved with this case takes everything we learn in law school out of the theoretical realm and puts a human face on it, reminding many of us why we wanted to become lawyers in the first place," says Sabol.

Founded and directed by Professor Michael Foreman, the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic provides intensive training in appellate advocacy by involving students in the noncriminal civil rights cases before the state appellate courts, federal courts of appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court.

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